There are days when the world can feel extremely chaotic and overwhelming in complexity—whether it’s politics, the economy, global issues, or just the stress you face at work or at home. Through it all, happiness is a key priority. People want joy, contentment, and satisfaction in their work and life. While happiness may seem fleeting, there are paths you can take (some that may see strike you as surprising) to find happiness.
In my research on happiness, there are some significant sources that matter most. Feeling a sense of purpose in your contribution; sustaining meaningful connections with others; having opportunities to stretch, learn, and grow; and gratitude are all correlated with happiness.
But there are also some certain pathways to feeling happy which may surprise you.
Don’t chase it
The happiness paradox suggests if you seek to be happy, you’ll be less likely to accomplish it. Instead, you should seek to create the conditions associated with happiness, rather than pursuing happiness for its own sake.
This is true because chasing happiness reminds you of what you don’t have (since you are pursuing it, after all) and it focuses you on your own needs, rather than those of others—and the opposite is linked with happiness. You’re more likely to experience happiness when you’re contributing to the needs of others, rather than yourself.
Spend time wisely
If you want to be happy, you’ll also do well to spend your time on activities which are both relaxing and rejuvenating. Research at the University of Nottingham found when you spend time on a hobby you enjoy or whiling away the hours playing games, these are correlated with happiness. Taking naps is also a great way to boost your happiness.
And interestingly, research at the University of Colorado found if you set your alarm to wake up an hour earlier each day (assuming you’re getting enough sleep overall), this is also correlated with happiness—likely because you have more control over your time and because you can fill your day with more of what you love to do.
Invest in experiences
In creating the conditions for happiness, it’s also smart to seek experiences which are meaningful. While you can spend money on items or objects, experiences are much more likely to pay off in your sense of joy or contentment. This is because purchasing things tends to offer only fleeting satisfaction, while experiences tend to engage you over time and in multiple parts of your sensory brain circuits. You enjoyed sightseeing in Venice, tasting great meals, and feeling the rocking of a gondola ride and the cobblestones under your feet while you walked throughout the city. These experiences make memories, which are more lasting than objects can deliver. In addition, usually experiences are enjoyed with others—also making them greater sources of happiness. The skydiving you did with your son will live on for you, delivering a dose of joy each time you recall those moments.
Eat your veggies
If you’re a picky eater, you can scroll on to the next source of happiness, but for all the healthy eaters (or wannabe healthy eaters), this will, likewise, make you happy: Studies as the University of Warwick found greater consumption of fruits and vegetables was correlated with greater happiness. A related study at University of Leeds hypothesized the greater presence of carotenoids in the blood is what contributed to greater senses of subjective well-being when people ate more healthfully.
Contribute to your community
Another sure pathway to happiness is strong connections with your community. This can be with children, as a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science demonstrated. Those who put children’s needs ahead of their own experienced greater happiness. Of course, you must still set healthy boundaries for children, but selfless investments in children’s well-being through spending time and demonstrating unconditional love were strongly linked with greater happiness.
You can also volunteer in your community and experience greater happiness. People all have an instinct to matter and crave to contribute their talents and stills to their communities. This was born out by a study at the University of Illinois, which found when people saw others whose needs were fulfilled, they felt happier themselves. In short, boosting others, boosts you as well.
Look beyond the dollar
It’s a misnomer that money can buy happiness. Everyone needs a threshold level of income to ensure safety, adequate food, and shelter, but these result in only baseline satisfaction. Beyond this threshold, money won’t buy additional happiness. True joy tends to result from all the other factors discussed above—from purpose and health to making meaningful contributions to the community.
In the end, you don’t need to simply wait for happiness to blossom around you. Instead, you can create the conditions for your own happiness—and taking positive action can be its own source of happiness, as well.
Tracy Brower, PhD, is a sociologist focused on work-life happiness and fulfillment. She works for Steelcase, and is the author of two books, The Secrets to Happiness at Work and Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work.